On Carter on Israel, Palestine, and Apartheid
Any present or past President has got to be used to being scorned, so the hue and cry now erupting over Jimmy Carter’s new book on the Israeli-Palestinian misery can’t be terribly surprising for him. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the book and so am not in a position to endorse or reject or somewhere-in-the-middle it. Still, some of the reaction is so clearly based on attacking Carter himself, rather than the content of his book–indeed it seems to be attacking Carter instead of attacking his arguments–and that’s just plain wrong. An example.
Neal Sher’s op-ed at the JTA: Global News Service of the Jewish People is a classic attempt at a hatchet job. Sher asserts (without a single example or refutation) that Carter bases his book, at least in part, on factual errors. But much more than that is the strained logic Sher uses to insinuate that Carter is a Nazi sympathizer–which is indeed exactly what he clearly implies. This is a very serious, even dangerous, implication, because exaggerated crying “wolf” over anti-Semitism results in people being likely to ignore true instances of that wretched prejudice.
In order to paint Carter as a Nazi sympathizer, Sher tells the story of the time he was working for the Office of Special Investigations, “the Justice Department’s Nazi prosecution unit,” on the case of a former Nazi SS officer, Martin Bartesch. (By the way, Sher would subsequently be disbarred from the District of Columbia bar for embezzling money from a Holocaust victims fund. Sher was never criminally charged, but apparently there was enough evidence to cause the DC bar to strip him of his lawyerly status.)
Sher writes that
Bartesch’s family and ‘supporters,’ seeking special relief, launched a campaign to discredit OSI while trying to garner political support. Indeed, OSI received numerous inquiries from members of Congress who had been approached. After we explained the facts of the case, however, the matter inevitably was dropped; no one urged that Bartesch or his family be accorded any special treatment.
Sher makes no implication that these numerous members of Congress have a hidden pro-Nazi aggenda. Yet when Carter does essentially the exact same thing–merely forwarding a letter from Bartesch’s daughter with a short added scribble urging OSI to allow for “humanitarian considerations”–somehow Carter is at minimum excessively naive or at most revealing some long-festering, pro-Nazi anti-Semitism.
In September 1987, after all of the gruesome details of the case had been made public and widely reported in the media, I received a letter sent by Bartesch’s daughter to the former president…. I was … taken aback by the personal, handwritten note Jimmy Carter sent to me seeking “special consideration” for this Nazi SS murderer. There on the upper-right corner of Bartesch’s daughter’s letter was a note to me in the former president’s handwriting, and with his signature, urging that “in cases such as this, special consideration can be given to the families for humanitarian reasons.”
As disturbing as I found Carter’s plea, and although his attempted intervention has always gnawed at me, I chalked it up at the time to a certain naivete on the part of the former president. But now, in light of Carter’s most recent writings and comments, I am left to wonder whether it was I who was naive simply to dismiss his knee-jerk appeal as the instinctive reaction of a well-meaning but misguided humanitarian.
The exposure of Carter’s views on Israel and the Jewish lobby has shed a clearer light on his attempt to influence me in the Bartesch case. We know from his own confession that he has had lust in his heart. Unfortunately, he has given us ample reason to wonder what else is lurking there.
Apparently Sher wants you to believe that Carter day dreams of saluting “Sig Heil” and goose stepping through the nearest synagogue.
Sher does not say what he did in response to Carter’s scribbled note on Bartesch’s daughter’s letter. While Sher apparently responded to the Congressional inquirers with explanations of why Bartesch’s case required serious action, to which the Congress members responded with approval (or dropped the issue without response), did he reply to Carter and offer a similar explanation of OSI’s position? If he did not, then doesn’t that imply that at the time he didn’t take Carter’s interest to be serious, that perhaps he interpreted Carter as just doing a minor favor to molify a pleading woman? And if he did respond to Carter at the time, why doesn’t he say so, and why doesn’t he say what Carter’s reaction was? Could it be that Carter accepted OSI’s position once he was more fully informed–just as the Congressional interlopers did–but that Sher avoids mentioning this because that would undermine the odious view of Carter Sher is creating in this op-ed?
Either way, it seems that Sher is trying to make a racially-tinged tempest in a teapot in order to create a connection between an apparently offhanded action of Carters twenty years ago and Carter’s efforts today to sway public opinion regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And what about all those other Congress people whom Sher seems to treat as fine and decent citizens despite their initial efforts on Bartesch’s case? Is Sher simply waiting for any of them to write something critical of Israel, at which time he will accuse them of having been a stooge for the former Nazi?
Sher goes on to criticize the title of Carter’s book. From what Christopher Hedges recently wrote in The Nation about the controversy over the book
Now, I think any critiques Sher makes must be judged on their merits (and I don’t see much merit to those he lists in this op-ed), but for what it’s worth, I’d also like to note that he is the former Executive Director of AIPAC, a group not generally viewed as moderate on issues of Israeli-Palestinian peace. In Hedge’s Nation piece, he refers to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time that Rabin had realized that real efforts towards making peace were necessary. He describes Rabin’s attitude towards the Jewish leadership in the U.S. as being expressly NOT supportive of Israel as a whole, but specifically supportive of Israel’s hard right.
When Rabin, who had come to despise what the occupation was doing to the citizenry of his own country, was sworn in as prime minister, the leaders of these American Jewish organizations, along with their buffoonish supporters on the Christian right, were conspicuous by their absence. On one of Rabin’s first visits to Washington after he assumed office, according to one of his aides, he was informed that a group of American Jewish leaders were available to meet him. The surly old general, whose gravelly cigarette voice seemed to rise up from below his feet, curtly refused. He told his entourage he did not have time to waste on ‘scumbags.’
Sher was not at AIPAC at the time of this incident (he took the helm a year or two later), so perhaps Rabin would not have considered Sher a scumbag. Since Rabin was murdered by someone who shares the hard-right politics of people like Sher, we’ll never know.
Regardless, since Sher refuses to debate with Carter on the substantive issues, will he devote himself fulltime to outing other Nazi sympathizers, like Desmond Tutu?